It's a frightening thought: could the bus driver on the way to collect children from school to take them home be intoxicated and incapable of safe driving? In one Maryland county, that was a possibility even with apparent driver background checks in place. After months of delays and scientific analysis of blood samples, a Carroll County bus driver was charged with a series of felonies, including driving while intoxicated. What happened?
According to police, the driver was operating a school bus one afternoon when she suddenly departed the roadway, struck several telephone poles, and came to a stop on the side of the road. Thankfully, no students were aboard in the incident, as the afternoon route had not started. According to police, the woman—an employee of a third-party bus company contracted by the school district—was clearly intoxicated on the scene.
Arrested at the time, it took the state's crime labs months to process the blood samples taken from the woman after the crash. After six months, a positive result was identified, and the woman was summoned to appear in court. Police did not indicate what substances they found, but signs point beyond alcohol and towards more potent drugs.
Lowering the Risks of Hiring Dangerous Drivers
According to the district, all employees certified to drive through third-party agencies must pass a thorough background check, a drug and alcohol test, and submit to random tests as well. This incident illustrates that potentially problematic drivers can slip through the cracks—but generally, a robust screening process is always beneficial.
Bus drivers fall under Department of Transportation regulations, and therefore employers must use MVR checks, drug testing, and other tools to evaluate suitability. Using these tools—and monitoring employees on an ongoing basis—identifies red flags early on, such as old DUI convictions or a history of traffic crashes. Regular random testing can also aid in maintaining a sober workforce.
The Consequences of Failing to Do Your Due Diligence
Most school districts, especially large ones, do not employ bus drivers directly. Instead, they use partner businesses that contract with drivers independently. The result is often that schools must place their trust in how bus contractors run their business, and not everyone operates above board.
Failing to enforce rigorous safety and screening standards can have serious consequences. First, it inherently diminishes the safety of school bussing. Second, impaired driving creates serious risks of injury or even death. Finally, districts and their partners alike could face significant legal ramifications—and potential financial losses—from negligence lawsuits filed by the parents of children harmed by an impaired or dangerous driver.
Navigating Today's Challenging Recruitment Environment
School bus drivers face a challenging job: managing students, keeping a safe environment in the vehicle, driving safely, and sometimes even facing down irate parents. These challenges, combined with the extensive licensing and vetting needed to get started, mean there simply aren't enough bus drivers to go around right now.
As districts search for a solution, diminishing driver background checks isn't an option. Not only is proper vetting often a legal requirement, but the risks and potential consequences of cutting corners are too great. When it can cost more than $8,000 and takes weeks or months to hire a single bus driver, losing an employee because of bad actions that good screening could've caught is an unforced error. As schools nationwide look for more drivers, the answers may lie in more and better support for drivers across the board.
About Michael Klazema The author
Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments